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BGI releases 1st panoramic atlases of life

Writer: Han Ximin  |  Editor: Lin Lin  |  From: Shenzhen Daily  |  Updated: 2022-05-06

International scientists led by China’s BGI•Research on Wednesday released the world’s first panoramic spatial atlases of life, examining the cellular dynamics of organisms at different developmental stages and providing potentially significant new information for disease treatment, development and aging, and an improved understanding of biological evolution.

In a series of studies published in Cell Press journals, members of Spatio-Temporal Omics Consortium (STOC), an international scientific consortium that was officially launched at China National GeneBank in Dapeng New Area on Thursday, used the spatially resolved transcriptomics technology Stereo-seq to produce spatio-temporal cellular maps of mice, small fruit flies, zebrafish and the Arabidopsis (thale cress) plant. The technology was developed by BGI•Research.

Wang Jian (R), chairman of BGI, interacts with the corresponding authors of the papers published in Cell Press journals at a ceremony marking the launch of Spatio-Temporal Omics Consortium (STOC) yesterday. Courtesy of BGI

The papers demonstrate how Stereo-seq has achieved a major breakthrough in spatial resolution and panoramic field of view, enabling analysis of the distribution and placement of molecules and cells in situ, and over time.

“In the past, it took thousands or even tens of thousands of experiments to complete a spatio-temporal map. Now, with Stereo-seq, it can be achieved quickly and comprehensively with one. This is a milestone breakthrough in life science tools,” said Dr. Chen Ao, who led the development of the Stereo-seq technology at BGI•Research and is the first author of the mouse spatio-temporal atlas paper.

Over 80 scientists from leading universities in 16 countries have so far collaborated as part of STOC, an open scientific collaboration consortium focused on using spatially resolved, cellular resolution omics technologies to map and understand life.

Spatial transcriptomics technology is an emerging technology that resolves previous issues identifying characteristics of single cells within a biological tissue. It builds on the achievements of single-cell sequencing, elevating it to the next level by enabling scientists to track a cell’s precise location and how it interacts with its neighbors.

Scientists used Stereo-seq to examine the early embryonic development of mice, particularly from 9.5 to 16.5 days, during which embryonic development is occurring at a fast rate. Stereo-seq generated the Mouse Organogenesis Spatiotemporal Transcriptomic Atlas (MOSTA), which maps with single-cell resolution and high sensitivity, the kinetics and directionality of transcriptional variation during mouse organogenesis.

“Stereo-seq is a transformational breakthrough in spatial transcriptomics technology and is the most powerful technology in this field of life sciences today,” said Dr. Liu Longqi of BGI•Research, one of the papers’ corresponding authors. “We now have the technology to map a panoramic atlas of every cell in an organism, according to their individual biomolecular profiles, in space and over time.”

“Stereo-seq is like a ship — a spaceship that can take us to this universe of trillions of cells or more than trillions. Through Stereo-seq, we are able to progressively dissect how these trillions of cells associate and interact with each other. It is important to have people from all over the world to share this ability to dream about the unknown to discover new things,” Miguel Esteban, a member of STOC and professor at the Guangzhou Institutes of Biomedicine and Health, Chinese Academy of Sciences, said during an interview Thursday.

“The successful application of our Stereo-seq technology for development has significant implications for the future of genomic research on human diseases,” said co-corresponding author Dr. Xu Xun, director of BGI•Research. “Demonstrating that this technology can pinpoint certain cells that indicate future disease will be critical for diagnostics and therapeutics for a number of conditions.”

For example, Robinow syndrome is a common birth defect. A gene related to this has been found clinically, but how this gene causes defects including cleft lip and palate, and short limbs, is unknown. The researchers mapped the cleft lip and palate-related gene in the process of mouse embryonic development and found that the gene was present and highly expressed in the mouse’s lips and toes. This demonstrated that the gene is very important in the development of lips and toes in mice. If this gene is mutated, the development of lips and toes will be abnormal.

This knowledge will potentially help researchers studying Robinow syndrome birth defects in humans, Xu said.